The pain in Severus Snape's forearm grew over the course of the evening. Elizabeth chattered through dinner, and he half-listened, focused on keeping the look of pain off his face. By his after-dinner cup of tea, it was clear that no pain-killing potion was going to ease his suffering.
"I'm going to Hermione's, okay?" Elizabeth danced down the stairs, pulling her hair into a ponytail. "I'll be back tomorrow afternoon."
"Is that a request?" Severus asked shortly, pressing his hand against his shirt-covered forearm in an attempt to stop the ache.
"I asked if it was okay," Elizabeth looked at him. "What's with you?"
"Pardon me?" Severus pressed his lips together. "Have you forgotten who you're speaking to? Just because you'll be of age in a week—
"Dad?" Elizabeth stepped forward and put her hand over where the Dark Mark writhed beneath his shirt fabric. She met his eyes in a wordless question.
Severus softened. "It's nothing," he said, shaking his head. "Go on. I'll see you tomorrow. Before three, please, we need to go to Diagon Alley."
Elizabeth considered, once again, reminding him that she wasn't going back to school, however it seemed like a bad time to have a fight. She desperately needed to see Hermione. "You're alright?" She looked at his arm again.
"Perfectly," Severus lied. "He's been calling frequently, you know that."
Elizabeth nodded. "Bye, then," she bent down and kissed his cheek, then disappeared into the floo.
Severus felt as if the blood boiled beneath his skin. His whole body grew hot, and the skin on his face developed the tight feeling of fever. With the fever came visions, and with the visions came messages.
Come now, Severus. You can't keep up this nonsense forever.
Your allegiance is not with the Light. You've shown that.
Come serve at my right hand, Severus.
And then, one he could not ignore.
Your daughter comes of age in 7 days, Severus. Every moment you remain my enemy, you shorten her life.
He'd been to Malfoy Manor perhaps a hundred times over the years. But there was something… darker about it that night.
"Ah," came a high, clear voice from the dining room. "Snape. How wonderful you've chosen to join us. I'd say you'd seen the light, but we all know that the light is not worth seeing."
The speaker was seated directly in front of the fireplace, so that it was difficult, at first, for the new arrivals to make out more than his silhouette. As Severus moved further into the room, however, the face shone through the gloom, hairless, snakelike, with slits for nostrils and gleaming red eyes whose pupils were vertical. He was so fale he seemed to emit a pearly glow.
"Sit here," Voldemort indicated the seat on his immediate right. "We were just discussing the possibility that this prophecy concerning my demise is quite incorrect. Thoughts?"
Severus sat gingerly, relishing for just a moment that his arm was no longer being tortured. "I think that it is unlikely that a child could defeat you, My Lord."
That was certainly true, if not what he wished. It was, indeed, unlikely that Elizabeth would be able to kill a man who had escaped the finest Aurors in the world.
"That's what I think as well. Especially one of such questionable blood status." Voldemort's mouth twisted into something of a smile. "Just to be sure, we'll need to watch the girl quite carefully. However, I am willing to spare her life. If you are willing to do something for me." His eyes flashed. "I will take your silence as assent."
Voldemort slowly drummed his fingertips on the table. "Since you've moved yourself into a position of power among our young witches and wizards, I am putting you in charge of assuring that we are only educating the right sort. With the truth, of course." He looked up at the ceiling, were a woman was suspended, rotating silently. "You'll need to hire a new Muggle Studies professor," Voldemort said sardonically. "Perhaps one that doesn't spout Mudblood-loving nonsense."
"Of course, My Lord," Severus said, wanting to cast a killing curse, right then and there. Nevermind that the others would kill him before his wand-hand lowered. Nevermind that he'd certainly be leaving his child fatherless a week before her seventeenth birthday.
It was his logic that saved the moment. The knowledge that Voldemort had hidden pieces of his soul. Killing him would only serve as a temporary fix. Still, temporary was still alluring n this situation.
"It seems," Voldemort continued, "that despite our infiltration of the Ministry, they've seen fit to put a track on my wand. I shall need to borrow one from one of you. I dislike being monitored."
There was only silence. The people around the table would have sooner provided a limb than their wand.
"No volunteers?" Voldemort said smoothly. "Let's see… Lucius, I see no reason for you to have a wand anymore."
"My Lord?" Lucius' voice was hoarse.
"Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand."
Severus was not unamused by Lucius' squirming. However, his attention was mainly focused on Draco. The boy's swagger was obviously degraded, even his posture in his chair was begging to be ignored. Severus wasn't sure if he'd ever seen Draco Malfoy attempting to avoid the spotlight.
Lucius passed his wand to his son, who passed it to Severus, who handed it to Voldemort.
"What is it?" The Dark Lord examined the wand.
"Elm, My Lord."
"And the core?"
"Dragon—" Malfoy swallowed. "Dragon heartstring."
"Good," Voldemort nodded. "I can't help but notice, Lucius, that you seem less than pleased to give me this gift. Is the freedom of you and your son not worth it? Is it my presence in your home that displeases you?"
"Of course not, My Lord!"
"Such lies, Lucius," Voldemort sneered. "You claim to desire my rise to power, but you look discontented as it is happening."
"Your son survives on a technicality," Voldemort went on. "While you lie about your allegiance, Severus proved his. Saving your son from dirtying his hands, I suppose."
"It is an honor to have you here," Belltarix spoke up from beside her sister. "There can be no higher pleasure."
"No higher pleasure," Voldemort tilted his head slightly. "Even compared with the happy event, I hear, has taken pace in your family this week?"
Bellatrix stared at him, evidently confused. "I don't know what you mean, my Lord."
"I'm talking about your niece, Bellatrix. And yours, Lucius and Narcissa. She has just married the werewolf, Remus Lupin."
"She is no niece of ours, My Lord," Bellatrix spat. "Narcissa and I have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood. This brat has nothing to do with either of us, nor any beast she marries."
Voldemort smiled coldly. "Remus Lupin is, at least, a half-blood," he said, as if laying a trap. "Are you not pleased with her choice?"
"We can only allow the purest blood to remain, my Lord. May the cubs be born Squibs." Bellatrix hissed.
Voldemort emitted a cruel laugh. "What do you have to say about that, Severus? I hear that you were a member of the groom's party?"
"Lupin is a valuable ally, my Lord," Severus said smoothly. "A formidable fighting force during the full moon."
"I'm sure," Voldemort nodded once. "Perhaps you should entice him to join us. His blood-status could be overlooked. As long as he would agree not to produce more mudbloods."
"I'm sure that is worth consideration, My Lord." Severus felt a heavy blacknes that started in his stomach and oozed, like a poisonous sludge through his veins. It was how he always felt in the presence of this man. The soul-sucking feeling that he was giving everything away with no promise of payoff.
"Hello, darling," Mrs. Granger said when Elizabeth appeared in the floo.
"I don't know if I'll ever get used to it," Mr. Granger said from the sofa. "People stepping out of the fireplace!"
"It's not a fireplace, dear. It's a floo." Mrs. Granger said. "It's brilliant, really."
"Thank you for having me," Elizabeth said, hoping not to get in a conversation about how it felt to be a witch.
"Of course, of course," Mrs. Granger beckoned her further into the house. "Hermione is upstairs with Ron and one of his brothers. You go on up, and I'll bring you some tea in a bit."
Elizabeth took the stairs two at a time. The Granger's rec room was at the top of the stairs. Hermione was sitting on the floor in front of a large pile of books. Ron and Fred were leaning against the billiard table.
"Oh good," Ron said when he saw her. "Tell Hermione she can't take every book in her library."
"Anything could be useful," Hermione argued. "Anything is possible."
"Listen," Elizabeth started. "I know you said after Dumbledore's funeral that you wanted to come with me."
"Here she goes," Hermione said to Ron, rolling her eyes.
"We knew she would," Ron answered, turning to his brother. "Fred, control your woman, would you?"
"If only I could," Fred laughed.
"You know, I think I will take Hogwarts, A History." Hermione mused aloud. "Even if we aren't going back there, I'd feel wrong if I didn't have it with—
"Listen!" Elizabeth tried again.
"No, Betsy, you listen," Fred stepped in. "We're coming with you. That was decided months ago. Years ago, really."
"Shut up," Ron advised.
"Are you sure you've thought this through?" Elizabeth persisted.
"Let's see," Hermione slammed Travels with Trolls onto the discard pile with an annoyed look. "I've been packing for days, so we're ready to leave at a moment's notice, which for your information has included doing some pretty difficult magic. I've also planned to modify my parents' memories so that they're convinced they're really called Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and that their life's ambition is to move to Australia, which hopefully they will do, making it more difficult for Voldemort to find them. assuming I survive this, I'll find them and lift the enchantment. If I don't… well, I hope the charm is good enough to keep them safe and happy. They won't remember they have a daughter, or know anything about our world." She looked at Elizabeth, tears in her eyes. "So we're sure, thanks."
"Hermione, I'm sorry—
"Didn't you realize that we knew perfectly well what might happen if we come with you? Well, we do."
Elizabeth bit her lip, and Fred stepped up behind her wrapping his arms around her and pulling her back against him. He shared a look with Ron, who seemed to understand, and handed Hermione another stack of books, distracting her out of her tirade.
"We're coming," Fred said gently, "Every step of the way."
Elizabeth was quiet for a moment, watching Hermione sort her books, and then turned in Fred's arms to rest her forehead in his neck. "I love all of you."
"Not the same way, hopefully," Ron said affably. "Though I'm better looking than him."
"In your dreams, little brother." Elizabeth felt Fred's voice rumble through his throat.
"Dad, Fred, and George transformed a ghoul to pretend to be me," Ron said. "Riddled with Spattergroit, so anyone inquiring won't want to get too close."
"People will assume I went with my parents," Hermione said, her voice stronger. "Lots of Muggleborns are going into hiding."
"And I have a built-in body double," Fred said. "George has always wanted to be me, and now he'll have his chance."
"So your mum and dad are in on this plan?" Elizabeth turned to look at Ron.
"Well, Mum… you know her. She won't accept we're going till we've gone," Ron watched Hermione as she sorted another pile.
"What we really need to decide," said Hermione, "is where we're going after we leave here. I know you said you wanted to go to Godric's Hollow first, Elizabeth, and I understand why, but…well… shouldn't we make the Horcruxes our priority?"
"If we knew where any of the Horcruxes were, I'd agree with you," Elizabeth said.
"Don't you think there's a possibility that Voldemort's keeping a watch on Godric's Hollow? He might expect you to go back and visit your mum's grave once you're free to go."
"You've been there before," Ron said, sitting back on his heels. "It's not really the time for sight-seeing now, is it?"
"I haven't," Elizabeth said quietly. "Dad won't go there. And I'm not sight-seeing. I think there's something there."
"Alright, but we have to have a plan," Ron said. "Regulus said he destroyed the real locket, right?"
"He intended to," Elizabeth said. "That's what the note said."
"Well, what if he did finish it off?" Ron looked excited. "It'd be one less for us to do!"
"Yes, but we're still going to have to try and trace the real locket, aren't we?" said Hermione, "to find out whether or not it's destroyed."
"It has to be at Headquarters," Elizabeth said. "But I haven't been able to go there."
"Once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux?" Fred asked.
"Well," Hermione frowned. "I've been researching that."
"How?" Elizabeth tilted her head in confusion. "I didn't think there were any books on Horcruxes in the library?"
"There's weren't," Hermione said uncomfortably. "Dumbledore removed them all, but he… he didn't destroy them."
Ron sat up straight, wide-eyed.
"How in the name of Merlin's pants have you managed to get your hands on those Horcrux books?"
"It… it wasn't stealing!" Hermione defended. She looked from Elizabeth to Ron, to Fred, who was badly suppressing laughter. "They were still library books, even if Dumbledore had taken them off the shelves. Anyway, if he really didn't want anyone to get them, I'm sure he would have made it much harder to—
"Get to the point!" said Ron.
"I did a Summoning Charm," Hermione said in a small voice. "I can't imagine Dumbledore would have been angry, we're going to use the information to do what he wanted—
"Can you hear us complaining?" Fred interrupted. "Your new life of crime is fine with us. So how do you destroy them?"
"Well, Elizabeth kind of already showed us one way," Hermione said.
"Stabbing it with a basilisk fang?" Elizabeth said.
"Right, well, it's good we've got loads of those lying around," Ron said sarcastically.
"It doesn't have to be a basilisk fang," Hermione explained. "It has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux can't repair itself. Our problem is that there are very few substances as destructive as basilisk venom, and they're all dangerous to carry around with you. That's a problem we're going to have to solve though, because ripping, smashing a Horcrux won't do the trick. You've got to put it beyond magical repair."
"Hang on," Fred said suddenly. "The bit of soul in the diary was possessing Ginny, wasn't it? How does that work, then?"
"You're in trouble if you get too fond of or dependent on the Horcrux," Hermione explained. "Then the soul bit inside can flit in and out."
"I wonder how Dumbledore destroyed the ring," Elizabeth said aloud. "I should have asked him—
"I'm still hung up on the possession part," Fred interrupted. "I'm not keen to go through that again."
"We'll be careful," Elizabeth assured.
"You see, you can't just say that and have nothing happen," Fred argued, but seemed to accept that there was nothing that could be said to assuage his fears.
"Anyway," Hermione said. "We need to work out that bit. So if anyone has any bright ideas, feel free to share them."
"I have a bright idea," Elizabeth looked at Fred. "My dad thinks I'm spending the night here."
"You can," Hermione said. "I'll only have to explain to Mum a dozen or so times that you're still underage for another week, and so you can't do tricks for her."
"As much fun as that sounds," Elizabeth grinned at Fred. "I was hoping that I'd have another offer."
"Hmm," Fred said, a slow smile spreading across his face.
"You might ask if I'm willing to cover for you," Hermione said.
"Well, I thought since you'd started stealing books," Elizabeth teased.
"Get out," Hermione rolled her eyes and waved her hand. "Leave me to do all the work, won't you?"
"We'll spend loads of time thinking about it," Elizabeth assured, heading out the door. "All night, really."
"Where's George?" Elizabeth asked, as Fred carried her through the door of his apartment, his arms around her waist.
"Angelina's," Fred said, moving his mouth from hers only long enough to answer the question. "All night."
"Whatever shall we do?" Elizabeth giggled as he tossed her on the bed.
"I have some excellent ideas," Fred grinned, pouncing on her.
"Bill's wedding in a couple of weeks," Elizabeth said conversationally, as Fred worked his way up her neck.
"Uhuh," Fred affirmed, unbuttoning her shirt.
"I'm not sure whether to wear my hair up or down," Elizabeth said, her hands drifting to his belt buckle.
"Either way," Fred said, flipping them over so Elizabeth was straddling his hips.
"Betsy," Fred interrupted. "I'm doing some of my best work here. Can we not talk about my sister?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Okay. No talking."
"After this one," Elizabeth said later, as they lay on the bed, her head on Fred's chest. "No more weddings."
Fred laughed. "It still might not happen. Fleur could come to her senses."
"Don't be mean," Elizabeth nudged him. "It's just so stressful. Tonks and Remus didn't plan at all. I had to decorate through Hermione because I didn't want to risk the underage magic."
"The trace isn't apparently as precise as we're told as children," Fred agreed. "But it's not worth risking. My mum will be doing everything for this one, so you just have to show up and be beautiful. Charlie's the best man, so I have absolutely no responsibilities."
"Well, it'll be bigger than Tonks and Remus'," Elizabeth flopped back on the bed. "Tonks' mum and dad, and then Dad and I. Sorriest wedding party in the world."
"It sounds nice," Fred lay down beside her. "Quiet, which this one won't be. However, guess what is the night before?"
"Emm… a carnival," Elizabeth smiled.
"Well, a carnival seems a bit juvenile for a coming-of-age party, but I suppose."
Elizabeth shook her head. "We can't have a party."
"Why the hell not?" Fred propped himself on one elbow.
Elizabeth sighed. "What are we celebrating? That I'm old enough to be a serious threat to Voldemort? That we can leave to search for pieces of a murder's soul at any time?" She shrugged. "I don't want to rub Dad's face in it."
"Mum is not going to like that," Fred warned. "She already thinks your dad doesn't do anything nice for you."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Dad thinks your mum is crazy. Besides, it's the day before the wedding. She doesn't need the extra fuss."
"You know how we need something to destroy a Horcrux?"
Elizabeth nodded, confused by the change in conversation.
"Well, we can just bring them to my mum and then tell her you don't want a party. The Horcrux will just incinerate."
Elizabeth laughed. "Let's call that plan B."
It was three o'clock in the morning when Elizabeth was awakened by Severus' voice, coming from his silver doe standing beside the bed. "Hatchling. Come home."
Elizabeth was overwhelmed by appreciation that a Patronus didn't show the sender the location of its recipient. "Fred," she shook his shoulder.
"I love you too," he murmured, clearly still asleep.
"Fred," Elizabeth shook him again. "I have to go."
"Go where?" Fred finally opened his eyes.
"Home," Elizabeth kissed his face. "Go back to sleep."
"Why?" Fred rubbed a hand over his eyes.
"Not sure, Dad just sent his patronus," Elizabeth threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. "Hopefully, he didn't try to firecall the Grangers first." She leaned down to kiss him on more time, and then took floo powder from the talking bowl on the mantle.
"Have a nice trip, see you next fall!" The bowl chirped.
Elizabeth stepped into the flames and let the floo whisk her toward Spinner's End.
When she arrived, Severus was standing in the middle of the living room. As soon as she stepped out of the fireplace, he took three steps and wrapped her tightly in his arms.
"Dad?" She wriggled a bit. "What's wrong?"
Severus cleared his throat. "There's going to be increased attacks on Muggle-borns," he said quietly. "The Order is going tomorrow to secure the Granger's house, but I wanted you home tonight."
"Hermione is sending her parents away," Elizabeth said.
"Don't tell me where," Severus shook his head. "The sooner she can do so, the better. Then she should stay here or with the Weasleys."
"She's going to the Burrow for the wedding and staying there," Elizabeth nodded.
"Good then," Severus squeezed her shoulders again. "I'm sure I woke you. Go to bed."
Elizabeth started to go upstairs, then paused. She turned to look at him. "Your arm doesn't hurt?"
Severus looked at her impassively. "No."
"Dad…" Elizabeth bit her lip.
"Go to bed," Severus said firmly.
Elizabeth sighed. "You'll be careful?"
Severus prodded her toward the stairs. "I'm always careful."